Aston Villa opened their season of promise with a drab 1-0 loss to newly promoted West Ham—not exactly what the doctor ordered.
Some predict Villa will go down this season and this result only lays credence to that theory, yet all signs during the game point to progress made by the claret and blue side.
Baby steps, people.
How do you want us to play, then?
Common criticism of Aston Villa last season: they can't hold onto the ball.
Common criticism of Aston Villa during the loss to West Ham: they're not doing anything with the ball.
It's hard to please critics at the best of times, but this is just downright absurd. Last season, people quite rightly pointed out that Villa didn't build any attacks and played long ball football to small(ish) strikers.
This is indicative of an Alex McLeish team so it was never going to change, and Villa fans will be pleased with the 66 percent possession recorded at Upton Park this afternoon.
Standout performances from unlikely sources
Two players from Villa's central midfield absolutely ran the game. Forgotten man Fabian Delph recorded 72 successful passes from 78 attempts (94 percent), while Karim El-Ahmadi made 77 from 91 (85 percent).
While few were of cutting edge, the control exercised by these two was Barcelona-esque. Delph was deployed in a quarterback role in front of Ron Vlaar and Ciaran Clark, while El-Ahmadi roamed just in front of him.
The supply to Darren Bent was limited, as just 13 passes found their way to him and none of those were even close to West Ham's penalty box. But the building blocks are in place to improve in that area on what was a very tight, difficult pitch to play on.
Same old Big Sam
From a West Ham perspective, this was classic Sam Allardyce. The football wasn't pretty—the Hammers completed less than half the passes their opponents did—but it was very effective.
This is the blueprint they will follow for the rest of the season and will prove tough to beat, but sides more confident and more settled than this Villa team may not find it too hard to overcome them.
It's too early to panic for Aston Villa fans. Paul Lambert is a good manager who has faced a tumultuous summer, so to travel to a newly promoted side and acquit themselves like that is positive.
This was going to be a horrible first fixture for any side and it was unlikely Villa would be in any fit state to beat them. On the evidence of this performance, I'm not worried about Lambert's men.
Improve service to Bent and you turn an average team into an excellent one.